Last week was school choice week and a number of journalists and bloggers convened in Washington, D.C. for the Amplify Choice conference, hosted by the Franklin Center.
On the first day of the event, we were given an inside look at two D.C. schools which offer a choice outside of the public school system for parents, Archbishop Carroll High School and Achievement Prep Charter School.
Both schools exhibited an atmosphere of elevated expectations from all parties, a sense of community and an overall sense of excitement of the students to be there. A persistent theme at both schools was that of concerns for safety of the students and how a safe environment vastly improves the ability of students to engage, learn and excel in their studies.
About Archbishop Carroll
- The school has the motto ‘Pro Deo Et Patria’, which means ‘For God and Country’.
- Current enrollment is 385 students with 76% identifying as African-American and 19% multiracial from 63 zip codes spanning Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland.
- The teacher to student ratio is approximately 11 to 1, with an average class size of 25.
- Just over 50% of these students participate in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). It was noted in the Q&A after the tour, that many of the students attending would have had to attend public school had they not received this scholarship.
- Tuition is $13,000 a year; one of the lowest rates in the D.C. area.
- Admissions are done through applications to the school directly.
- Archbishop Carroll is a Catholic School with an International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
- All courses given at the school are college preparatory.
- Alumni include two former Lt. Governors for Maryland, Michael Steele and Corey Rutherford.
At Archbishop Carroll, students gave conference participants a tour of the school with visits to classes in progress. The student guides also participated in a question and answer session with our group at the conclusion of the tour.
Community was a constant theme at Archbishop Carroll. One student tour guide was Carter King, Student Body President.
King, during the Q & A session, remarked on what made the school different from public schools, “At Archbishop Carroll, all teachers want you to excel, they are engaged — it’s the community feel.”.
Two students I had a chance to talk to echoed King’s remarks. When I asked what one idea or word came to mind when they thought of the school, a student named Jason immediately responded with, “strong community” and the description “a perfect academic school”. Jason went on to elaborate that the students are “the heart of Archbishop Carroll is the students”.
Another student named Cindy answered the same question similarly, naming community as well. Cindy commented to me that ‘we all work together to do what we need to do’.
— Christopher Blakeley (@vivolalibertad) January 30, 2015
Also during the Q & A, the question was raised about comparing the relationships between students and teachers at Archbishop Carroll with that of public school teachers. The reaction from several students was that they didn’t have relationships with their teachers in public school.
Another elaborated on that lack of relationship with an anecdote of teachers on their cell phones ignoring the class as they did as they pleased.
Safety was another theme, which was expanded on in a later session at the Amplify Choice conference by a parent of a student at Archbishop Carroll.
“Physicality” in public schools was a big deciding factor for that parent seeking other choices in education for her children.
About Achievement Prep Charter School
Achievement Prep has two schools; one serves grades k-3 (180 children) and the one we toured serves grades 4-8. The following facts concern the grades 4-8 location.
- Achievement Prep almost exclusively services Ward 8 residents. Chief Academic Officer Susie Cannon told our group that, “This school exists to serve the community East of the river.”.
- There are 400 students at Achievement Prep’s grade 4-8 location.
- Average class size was around 22 students.
- At Achievement Prep, students are actually called “Scholars” and their teachers are “Platinum Teachers”
- Achievement Prep has an extended school day which begins at 7:30 am and ends at 4:15 pm.
- Achievement Prep has a theme called “DREAM”, which stands for Determination, Resolve, Enthusiasm, Accountability and Mastery.
- The method for entrance to Achievement Prep is the public lottery which can be accessed at MySchoolDC.org. At the MySchoolDC site, parents can list their preference of school in a ranked order when applying. The application is apparently over 20 pages long and includes a list of requirements such as test scores and essays.
- There is no union presence at Achievement Prep.
The students at Achievement Prep were testing when we made our visit to the school, so we were unable to see a working classroom or interview students. Instead, Chief Academic Officer Susie Cannon spoke to us about the school; her enthusiasm when speaking about Achievement Prep was impressive.
Cannon noted that most kids that come to their school are far behind in basic skills like reading. The example given was that of some 6th graders who came in reading at 1st grade levels.
In regards to questions about Charter schools under fire for failing in some cases, Cannon said that, “No one expects to open a school to fail, but it happens all over. Expectations are slowly lowered.” It was made clear that hard work and high expectations were staples at the school.
Cannon went on to say that, at Achievement Prep, the main theme was that “we are not pro-charter, we are not pro-public school or private school, we are pro-child” and that parents are not just enrolling their child but they “are enrolling your whole family”.
— Amelia (@AmeliaHammy) January 30, 2015
Safety and physicality also made their way into the conversation as a reason for parents looking for another educational choice for their children, especially in Ward 8. Cannon said that the number one issue of entering students was “physicality”.
On that same topic, Cannon explained their school had a mandatory orientation program or ‘boot camp’ that students had to attended for a full week prior to classes starting. Part of the assimilation process included ‘reflection’ exercises for the new students. These exercises are designed to help kids look at their past experiences in public school and to redefine what school is at Achievement Prep.